A community is sounding concern after a number of attacks by off-leash dogs on school property outside of school hours, at least one of them resulting in serious injuries.
The latest incident happened at Rawlinson Community School, near St. Clair Avenue West and Oakwood Avenue, on the evening of May 12, according to Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Ward 9 Trustee Alexis Dawson.
A group of students were at the school playing when an off-leash dog approached them and bit one of the students in the face, Dawson said.
The boy was taken to hospital with serious injuries and required surgery, she said. The dog owner was nowhere in sight when the attack occurred and no adults came to help, she added.
Families at the school have been “traumatized” by the incident and some kids have said they don’t want to go to school.
“Families are afraid to stay there and to send their kids,” Dawson told CP24.com.
She said that especially with the weather getting nicer, many kids hang out around the school to play in the evening. There’s also a daycare, which is open there until 6 p.m.
“These incidents are ongoing, they're becoming much more frequent now that families and dog owners are out with the nicer weather and it has compounded since COVID,” Dawson said.
A letter sent out to the Rawlinson school community this week urges families to “use extreme caution” in light of the recent attacks.
“I understand there are community members regularly allowing their dogs off-leash in our school yard on evenings and weekends, which poses a potential threat to children and adults alike,” the school’s principal wrote. “I would like to urge all families to exercise extreme caution when in the vicinity of the school yard outside of school hours.”
She said the attacks “have been mild to very severe in nature” and said some of them have been reported to police and Toronto Animal Services.
Herself the parent of an 11-year-old-boy at the school, Dawson said she is thinking about telling her son to leave if he is playing on school grounds and sees an off-leash dog.
But the problem isn’t just at Rawlinson.
“It's a huge issue,” Dawson says. “I actually heard at Rawlinson that there was even a dog trainer hosting dog training workshops. And the rules are that there are no dogs allowed on school property at all, no matter whatever time of day.”
Dawson said the problem is particularly bad in neighborhoods which lack green space. Her ward stretches down to the waterfront and includes some areas downtown where there are many, many dogs and few large parks and she’s dealing with the same issue at a school near Fort York.
“It's particularly compounded in my ward, which includes Davenport, which is the most green space-compromised ward in the city,” she said.
Technically, off-leash dogs are not allowed on TDSB property, but the board does not have any enforcement mechanisms and city bylaw officers are not empowered to carry out enforcement on school property.
For now, families in the area are being advised not to approach any dogs that are off-leash, even if they appear friendly, to avoid eye contact with the dogs, and to back away slowly if a dog is growling, barking, or showing its teeth.
Dawson said she and Coun. Alejandra Bravo are handing over some election signs to be repurposed into signs reminding people that their dogs can’t be off-leash on school property. They’re also examining a community benefit agreement to see if it might enable bylaw officers to do enforcement on school grounds, and are planning to flyer in the area to remind dog-owners of the rules.
While she is focused on reminding dog-owners about the rules at the moment, she said that ultimately there needs to be a better solution.
Dawson notes that many people got dogs during the pandemic when many spaces were shut down and quiet and that some of the routines for dog-owners which were fine then may not work any longer.
She said green space also needs to be a consideration as part of development.
“Within the ward as a whole, we have more than 80,000 units currently under construction. And we're getting word of more applications several times per week,” she said. “And so we are very concerned but I am particularly concerned because it's a growing issue and there's nowhere for dogs to go.”